Family relies on community after being displaced by fire

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OKALOOSA COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - One local family is looking on the bright side, even though their house recently caught fire.

"This was going to be our forever home. It was a foreclosure remodel. We gutted it down to the studs and sweat and tears in that house," Okaloosa County Sheriff's Deputy and Student Resource Officer for Fort Walton Beach High School, James Reeves said.

January 4th, while Deputy Reeves was at work, his air conditioning unit caught fire, damaging his home.

"My wife had just come home from getting groceries. [She] though she had smelled some smoke, didn't see anything. Went back outside, came back in and saw the fire coming out of our air conditioning closet," Reeves said.

"I was very scared our house was going to burn down," his daughter Emmalyn told us.

"And why is because one of the wires in the air compressor got too hot," explained his son Aiden.

"Just watching your hard work being destroyed. It was tough." Reeves added.

Although the Reeves family temporarily lost their home, they haven't lost their spirit.

"My family was out, you know, so I'm just kind of walking around saying, 'My family is out, my house is burnt, I've got a mission, I've got to get this house back up so we can get back in it,'" Reeves said.

They may have lost some material possessions but he said thanks to the love and support of their community, they are able to keep a positive attitude.

"I miss all my old toys. I miss my own bathtub," Emmalyn said.

"[I miss] my Legos," Aiden interjected.

"They had to spray our rooms. Everything is gone from my room but all that is left in Aiden's rooms is just his bed," Emmalyn finished.

"You see things way different now. Things I would have never thought of. Wearing the same clothes three days in a row, it was... I never thought I would do that. And not being able to shave for a day or something like that. Just those little things you take for granted were significant when you can't get them," Reeves said. "But before the fire department even left my house, the Sheriff's Office charity had cut me a check for incidentals right off the bat. I already had a place to stay for my kids. They had already loaded my kids up and helped empty my house of what we could and had them in a condo on the beach."

"And some of our friends were very nice because our favorite Christmas presents, they helped us replace them," Aiden added.

Deputy Reeves said the hardest part was accepting help.

"The community has come out and given us stuff and donated stuff so, I mean clothes and toys and gift cards have showed up so we have been able to replace a lot of stuff for the immediate so they got time to play, they've got clothes to wear to school. I can't say enough about the community," he said. "You feel like you don't want it because you don't want to be a burden on other people because other people have worse problems than you. There is always someone off worse than you and it was hard for me to accept it but I'm glad we did because it has made it a much easier thing to handle right now."

While their displacement will only be temporary, they said they want to make the best out of this bad situation.

"The more that we're in the stable environment that we get the new lodging that we get, it's working out very well and starting to normalize and [the kids] think they are on a long-term vacation," Reeves said. "It's been more like a vacation for my kids and more of an inconvenience than a disaster."

"[It is] kind of sad but happy because I like that we get to stay at the other place. It's a really fun place," added Aiden.

And just like his dad, Aiden said he cannot express how much it means to him for people to care.

"Thank you for everything you brought us. We are so grateful," he said.

Reeves said the most important lesson he hopes his family takes away from this is to always try to help support those around you in need.

Aiden said he hopes to one day write a book about this experience and share it with others. He says all he's missing is a notebook for his thoughts.

The family said the next step is waiting to get clearance from the insurance company so they can get back in and do repairs.